Gathering every last ounce of pride and dignity I can muster, I roll onto the campus I left over two decades ago. Entering the administration building, I pass through doors manned by two students who appear years younger than my eldest kids and probably are only half a decade older than my youngest child.
They listen attentively when I hit play on the words I’d pre-typed into my AAC communication device: “I have a dream to return to university. I applied online last night, but the website confounded me and, well, I have a million questions. So, I thought I’d just show up in person and ask for help.”
At this point, I’m babbling, AAC-style. “I know I’d be an older student and a disabled one at that, and I’m not sure if I can actually do this, but I want to try.”
“Oh! Uni is for everyone,” chirps one of the young students, smiling brightly at me. “We have plenty of mature students on campus!”
I puzzle over “uni,” a word I’ve never once thought to use. It’s only later, when I recount this conversation to my husband, that he laughs and points out that it was “uni” that caught my attention and not being described as “mature.”
The “uni” students promptly send me over to meet with an adviser who calmly answers my plethora of questions, assuring me I can do this. And with that, I’m in, taking my first wavering steps toward a long-held dream.
It seems like a lifetime ago since I first studied at this school. Back then, I was young and determined—with so many more physical abilities than I have now. The years have softened and strengthened me through many hard-learned lessons wrought from circumstances that can only be described as difficult. But, nonetheless, I’ve decided to go back to school.
For years, I’ve dreamed of applying to a graduate program—but the reality is that with my health issues and significant disabilities, I’m not anywhere near well enough or strong enough for a full-time graduate program.
But I learned a lesson recently: the art of asking, in the face of seemingly impossible obstacles, “What can I do?” This takes my focus from the barriers to what is possible.
I concluded that maybe I’m well enough to take one simple course at a time. Not a full-time graduate-level program, but perhaps one undergraduate course. So I signed up for one course and had my first day of school in eons in January. My hope is to continue taking one class each semester.
It’s a lesson God taught me last summer when facing an extremely challenging situation in parenting one of my adult kids, who lives with some cognitive disabilities and faces numerous, often extreme socioeconomic and relational challenges. With the desperation of a broken-hearted mother, I’ve watched him bounce from one terrifying crisis to the next.
It is truly terrible to see your much-loved, highly vulnerable adult child crash hard and realize you are powerless to change their choices, situation, or reality.
But it was in the face of this horror that God taught me to change my perspective to that which is possible. Even minuscule steps forward can make all the difference.
And isn’t this what we are called to do as Christians? To forsake lives of stagnancy where we quake in feelings of powerlessness at the obstacles we encounter? “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air,” the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 9:26.
We live in a world where we constantly encounter or hear of seemingly impossible obstacles, big and small, that we have little to no power over. When we read or hear on the news about terrible wars across the world, violence close to home, or people living in abject poverty—there is, at first look, little to nothing the average person can do. It’s easy to become insular, looking inward only at our own lives and closest loved ones, tuning out the pain of the world around us.
And even when someone in our close sphere faces hardship, we can still find ourselves feeling clueless, not knowing how to react or what we could say or do to help. When a loved one is diagnosed with an illness, our spouse loses their job, or our neighbor loses a family member, we can find ourselves powerless in the face of their great pain and sorrow.
But, if we prayerfully ask God to help us discern what we can do, our eyes will be opened to those small but significant acts of love that we are called as Christians to do.
We are instructed in Micah 6:8 to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Often, when we follow the Savior’s guidance in opening our eyes to what we can do, we discover that justice, mercy, love, and humility are the fruit that follows.